Joana Kohen

Arts & CultureNovember 1, 2015
Joana Kohen

It’s hard to put an artist in any box; they are rarely just a painter, or photographer, or a videographer. Multitasking is in their genes just like their creative urge. Joana is no different when it comes to being artist, yet she never finds it difficult to stand out in whatever she does. Two upcoming exhibitions, a lot of experience under her belt and a strong opinion on women, and their behavior, Ms. Kohen is once again coming to a gallery near you.

Artist ,DJ, “It girl”… Who is Joana Kohen?

First of all, thank you for all those titles. I believe that en- joying the biggest accomplishment, as an artist will make my other features more suitable within time. After studying Contemporary Art at Antwerp Royal Academy, I moved to Is- tanbul. During that period, I was involved in many group and solo exhibitions, and founded an initiative, titled Un-Known. I guess those are my main features.

I may not have what one would call a DJ career per se, but it is true that I know a little about music and it plays a great part in my life. However, since the very beginning, my obje- ctive has been to be beneficial and to share what I listen to rather than calling myself a DJ.

It girl… I’m happy to be called that. Along with my artistic process, it certainly adds fun and attitude to my life.

Looking back at the exhibitions you have held so far, which was the one that reflected you the best? Let’s talk about the process of preparing for an exhibition…

Somehow, the work that I create reflects my mood of the time I create it. However, I lose my connection with it after I’m finished. Therefore with “what’s next?” comes a kind of dissatisfaction. I’ve never been the kind of person the hide behind her work, and I make an effort to stay that way.

After I’m done with any one of my pieces, I look for a new source of communication data, a new type of production, new subjects, new topics… Of course my previous works are harbingers of my new ones and they keep following me. As I’ve already told you, that’s why they all reflect a certain period my mine. Nevertheless, I do not want to look back and lay claims to those projects and getting stuck on them. I believe that continuing my life only with their memories will take me further.

Well, what about your new works? Could you tell us about the new pieces you’ll display at Contemporary Istanbul art fair between 12-15 November?

This time I’m participating in the fair with a Siyah Beyaz Gallery. There will be one performance photography work, a few new paintings, mixed media art and paintings on fabric on display. There will also be a teaser for my show that will be held in March. You’ll be experiencing the subtext of my solo work at the gallery.

In my work, I question the way women have been commercialized and objectified worldwide especially after the 1940s, including in the US, and how they turned this into a lifestyle. I also look at how you can trace the characteristics of the period in social media today. It will be a show in which I ironically selfportray how women wish to depict themselves in different ways compared to who they really are, what their aesthetical understanding is, and how they ended up inter- nalizing this contradiction.


What kind of plans do you have for your solo show that will be held in March 2016?

I’m hoping to name the show “lifeforrent”. At least that’s what I have had as the title in my sketchbook for a very long time. A lot has changed since I started the work process a long time ago, and it continues to change during the creation process. There are old references from my former works. I guess I started filtering hard so that the works I created have become quite different from the ones I made the year before. I think I have matured quite a bit… This is the first time I have created a video art piece, and there are many performances, and a couple of installations…

There is this Un-known project you have been involved in for a while. First of all, what is Un-known? What kind of work do you do?

Un-known is a non-profit art initiative and workshop that I started in 2012 in the industrial neighborhood. It moved to Nişantaşı last year. Rather than working with artists on a daily basis, it’s an initiative that continues as project based.

Apart from the integrative works, artists prefer working individually nowadays. My objective has been to build a bridge that will provide an easy transition into the art market for myself as an artist. We provide artist residency for one or two artists every year because it causes confusion and cha- os when we do more than that. We are all young, active and enthusiastic.

You need to be a little satisfied in order to understand that patience is a phenomenon to be had. I wish I had more energy so that I could collaborate with more people instead of 1-2. Unfortunately it is difficult both in financial and senti- mental terms.

Could you share your thoughts about the art scene in Istanbul with us? How do the formations such as İstanbul Biennial and Contemporary Istanbul contribute to taking creativity further in Turkey?

Well, there were biennials and art fairs before I started working as an artist. I think they are getting more successful day by day. Of course there are those who are internalized by the audience and continue to work, as well as one hit wonders.

The art scene in Istanbul is rising. What’s to be done is to create better content. I cannot blame anyone. We haven’t gone through an artistic revolution; we have reached this point only by learning from the West in terms of contemporary and modern art. Therefore I think we are still inadequate in terms of the substructure. By “we” I mean the artists, curators, galleries and collectors. I’m not an exception for this either. Still, I have strong beliefs. We have great potential of knowledge and labor. We only need to make use of them in the most appropriate way. I believe that new doors will open and the right games will be played.

“We haven’t gone through an artistic revolution; we have reached this point only by learning from the West in terms of contemporary and modern art.”

What stimulates you to create?

I still can’t detect the point of stimulation! I wasn’t able to create anything for 6 months last year. I only had the potential to read and do research. Then I woke up one morning and felt ready to work and create again.

I cannot work at any time of day. My brain creates art su- bconsciously but the most difficult part is to present it in a physical way… That’s why making art is a long process that requires continuity; you need to be patient without giving up…

What kind of substructure and subjects do you prefer working on?

I usually work autobiographically and work on gender theories. I rarely get inspired to create from my inspirations of real issues that are in the current social agenda. I try to work off of my experiences, thoughts and research about my thoughts… They also question the concept of gender intensely.


We mostly see the colors black, white, red and pink in your work. How do you choose the colours you use?

Actually, that’s not the case. I can’t really work with colours, I suffer from synesthesia. Hence the theories on colors and memories related have powerful references for me. I try to use as few colors as possible and choose the ones that won’t disturb me. Black and white dominate my work but natural tones of white leading to brown are quite valuable to me, too. I express irony through pink and horror through red. Whi- te, black, gold and silver dominate my recent work. I try to provide a space I’d like to add value as much as possible by filtering a little more.

Which subjects raise the biggest misunderstanding regarding your work?

I don’t create works that are decorative or easily understan- dable. I’m not a painter and I haven’t specialized in any media or field, either. Therefore how I choose to express my art is of primary importance in the first place. For this reason, I don’t ever want to feel guilty if the spectator cannot read my work. Art should harbor some mystery. If your art piece does not cause a sense of disturbance, it hasn’t succeeded as an art piece. The feelings evoked by it should be on contrasting edges -love it or hate it-, that’s really important.

Photography: Tabitha Karp

Author: Alara Kap